Celebrating our industrial roots

A B-Type bus built in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow, now on display at the Imperial War Museum
A B-Type bus built in Blackhorse Lane, Walthamstow, now on display at the Imperial War Museum (credit Wikicommons/Ed Sexton)

Lindsay Collier from Lea Valley Heritage Alliance on why we should be doing more to celebrate our local industrial heritage

Being one of the founders and current chairman of Lea Valley Heritage Alliance I am still astounded by Britain’s failure to celebrate the Lea Valley’s national and world heritage.

If it had not been for the efforts of our members, the heritage of the Lea Valley would have been forgotten. The alliance was founded to ensure this never happens, becoming champions of the region’s industrial past so that future generations will be able to understand, enjoy, and celebrate the inventions that changed the world as we know it today.

But why is the Lea Valley’s industrial heritage so important? We are all aware of the Industrial Revolution and the so-called ‘northern powerhouse’ of the late 1800s with its mills, canals and railways that made Britain great. However, another industrial revolution was also taking place in the Lea Valley – there were at least a hundred industrial ‘firsts’ recorded here.

This is more than enough industrial heritage to build a national museum around. The Olympic Games in 2012 should have been the catalyst to celebrate this Lea Valley story, but the organisers frankly did not know anything about the region’s industrial heritage.

The Stratford Railway and Temple Mills Works and Depot – today occupied by the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park – was once the largest railway works in Britain. The depot still hold several industrial records, including the construction of a complete locomotive in nine hours and 47 minutes, which is still a world record today. An incredible 33,000 railway wagons were built there in total. What did Newham Council do to celebrate this railway heritage? They placed a locomotive called Robert outside Stratford Station, which has nothing to do with the works or the area.

In Waltham Forest I am somewhat astounded that nothing of structure has been included in this year’s Borough of Culture celebrations. This is the home of British transport, claiming the first all-British aviation flight by Alliott Verdon Roe on Walthamstow Marshes in 1909; the first British motor car in 1894 built by Frederick Bremer; was the home of the Associated Equipment Company which built London’s buses between 1912 and 1927, including the first standardised bus in the world, the 1910 B Type; the first battery-powered vehicle, a tram built in Leytonstone; and finally the world’s first fully-automated underground railway, the Victoria Line.

You might now be wondering why you don’t know anything about the above, or the whereabouts of our local museum celebrating these nationally-important industrial and transport achievements? Having a vested interest as the founder of Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum, the only regional museum that celebrates our transport and manufacturing heritage, I have been wishing for a long time now that one day people might realise the exciting opportunity for Waltham Forest Council to develop a regional industrial museum.

Many famous manufacturing companies also once graced the Lea Valley. Belling, JAP, Ever Ready, Lotus, Vauxhall, Britain’s Toys, Lebus, the Gun Powder Mills, Royal Small Arms Factory, and Thames Iron Works. World-first industrial achievements include the monorail, jet airliner, the name ‘petrol’, the ironclad warship, the diode valve, and the electric light bulb. We must also not forget Britain’s first railway murder, in Bow.

The Lea Valley Heritage Alliance, our members and museums will continue to work with anyone that can assist us in the celebration of our forgotten world and national industrial heritage roots.

To get in touch with Lea Valley Heritage Alliance:
Email l.collier418@btinternet.com